Next thing I knew, I was blinking awake, squinting my eyes to shield them from the too-bright light of a hospital room. What was I doing here?
Connie’s face was the first thing I recognized as everything came slowly back into focus.
“Jules!” She wheeled around and threw her arms around Katrina, who was seated next to her. “She’s awake! Katrina! She’s awake! Nurse! Eugene, call a nurse!” Her exclamations rang loudly in my ears, sending stabs of pain through my skull. I stifled a moan.
“Sh-sh-sh, Connie.” Katrina laid a gently restraining hand on Connie’s shoulder.
I sensed a wave of frenzied movement on the other side of the room as Eugene flagged down a nurse out in the hallway. A moment later, Dr. Lily Graham entered the room.
“How’s the patient?” she asked cheerfully.
“My head hurts. What…what happened?” My voice sounded muffled and far away, like it was coming from someone else.
“You don’t remember?” Dr. Graham questioned. “There was an accident, and—“
“Uuugh,” I groaned, burying my face in the pillow. “I remember. This car came out of nowhere—it didn’t even slow down. I tried to get out of the way, but… It all happened so fast, and I…” My heart pounded as my mind replayed the whole scene in vivid detail.
“Hey-hey-hey—Jules, it’s okay, it’s okay.” Connie’s touch on my arm was surprisingly gentle and reassuring, especially compared to her near hysteria just a moment earlier. I nodded my appreciation in her direction and turned my attention back to Dr. Graham, who was peering into my eyes with an ophthalmoscope.
“Pupils dilate normally. Now, follow my finger with your eyes. Good.” She continued the examination with a practiced eye and gentle touch. “Vitals are good. No significant bruising. We’ll just have to set that dislocated shoulder of yours, and then I think you’ll be in pretty good shape.”
“That’ll be fun,” I commented wryly. I’d seen it before in the movies, how the doctor snaps the joint back into place while the patient utters a primal cry of pain, and I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect.
“I’ll count to three, and then you’ll feel a pop, okay? You ready?”
I nodded, bracing myself.
One sharp twist, and it was over. It hurt like the dickens, but I managed to hold myself together. Connie hovered over me all the while, her brow crinkled with concern.
“Aaand that’ll do it,” Dr. Graham said, gathering her instruments and stepping toward the door. “We’ll keep you overnight for observation, but I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to go home tomorrow.”
I thanked her, and she nodded warmly, then turned to Connie.
“Can we step outside for a moment?”
I gave my half-sister a questioning look, and she gave my hand a reassuring squeeze as she left her seat. But something in the way she looked at Dr. Graham told me there must be something they weren’t telling me.
As Connie and Dr. Graham left the room, a shadow moved across the bedsheets, and for the first time, I noticed Buck standing over me. Silent and watchful, there was a certain uneasiness etched across his customarily serene features.
“Hey,” he responded softly.
Our eyes met for a moment, then snapped apart as I suddenly became aware of the other visitors who sat grim-faced in a kind of semicircle around the room. Wooton and Penny stood in the far corner, arms around each other, and Jillian perched lightly on the arm of the chair where Katrina sat, while Eugene paced nervously from one end of the room to the other.
“I didn’t realize we were having a party today. Otherwise, I would have dressed for it.” I was trying to be funny, but the joke fell flat. Nobody even cracked a smile.
Just then, Connie reentered the room, trailed by Captain Quinn from the Odyssey Police.
“Connie, what’s he—“
“It’s alright, young lady,” the captain began. “I’ll just need to get a statement from you to complete the police report. Do you think you’re up to it?”
“Sure, I guess. Although I’m not sure how much help I’ll be. I mean, it all happened so fast, I can barely sort out what happened.”
“That’s no matter,” Captain Quinn continued, shuffling papers around on a clip board. “Just tell me what you do remember.”
“Well, like I said, there isn’t a lot to tell,” I began. “I was driving carefully. And my phone was IN the glove compartment—just like you told me, Connie—I SWEAR. I got the green arrow and started to turn, and then I saw this car coming right at me. And it didn’t stop. It just didn’t stop.”
My voice rose as I spoke, and I could feel my pulse quickening as my mind’s eye replayed the scene in slow motion.
“Mhm,” the police captain nodded as his pencil swished across the paper on his clip board. “And that’s all you remember?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Dr. Graham said I must have been knocked unconscious on impact or whatever.”
“Alright, then. That’s all I need. Thank you for your time, Miss Kendall.”
“Wait—“ I put in abruptly, interrupting Captain Quinn’s exit. “What happened?”
The room went silent. My heart began to pound, as I sensed that something was terribly wrong.
“Well,” the police captain began, “it’s almost certain that the other driver was on her phone and didn’t even see the red light. We found the phone thrown from the car with an unfinished text message on the screen, so we can only assume…”
“Who—who was it?” I stammered, my mind racing.
“Why won’t anyone tell me?” I demanded. Panic tore at my throat, and I felt like screaming. I struggled to sit up, but a stab of pain from my injured shoulder stopped me.
“Jules—“ Connie began, choking on a sob. “Jules, the other driver was Valerie Swanson.”
I bolted upright, pain again coursing through my shoulder.
“What? Valerie? Is she okay? Where…?”
Connie interrupted my frantic stream of questions, her voice breaking as she struggled to hold back the tears. “Valerie… Valerie didn’t make it, Jules.